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Radio Quillabamba


The following article is from the book Making Waves by Alfonso Gumucio Dagron (The Rockefeller Foundation, 2001). It appears here with permission of the author.


Beginning one's day by sharing a radio program with farmers in the Quillabamba valley makes the world seem a much smaller place and makes a cold December morning in the Midwest of the United States a little warmer. Most overseas listeners understand little Spanish or Quechua. Yet, the pacing of the program and casual chat of the announcer provides a warm authenticity that is lacking in mass-market commercial radio in the developed world. The highlight, though, is the music. Long time short wave listeners can not only tell the difference between Peruvian huaynos and Ecuadorian pasillos, but even know if the style of the huayno is more typical of northern or southern Peru.

My experience with Radio Quillabamba began in 1974 when I was a high school student studying Spanish. In my early morning listening, I came across their hauntingly beautiful Peruvian melodies. I had written to few radio stations, and none in Peru, but I felt a need to write this station and tell them of a far off listener who had found them, listened to them, and been moved by their broadcasts. In the years since, Peruvain stations like Radio Quillabamba have continued to be my favourite early morning listening targets.

Radio broadcasters such as Radio Quillabamba are vital in educating, informing and providing a voice to their local audiences. Yet, in many cases their influence extends much further. If, as does Radio Quillabamba, the broadcaster uses short-wave, it also has an audience of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of short-wave enthusiasts (DXers) in the USA, Japan, Europe, and Australia.

Receiving small distant short-wave stations requires a good receiver and antenna. But, even more so, it requires a burning desire to connect with far away places. The best time to hear Peruvian radio in North America is in the early morning hours, around 4 a.m. in the MidWest. Only that burning desire gets dozens of distant listeners out of bed at that hour. (Written by Don Moore, an experienced DXer)


Radio Quillabamba is the station with largest coverage over La Concepción province. It started as an initiative of Dominican missionaries from the Puerto Maldonado Roman Catholic Vicariate, who in 1966 bought a small station that already existed in Quillabamba, and transformed it over the years in the innovative project of communication for social change that we know today. This process, however, didn’t occur immediately; first the station had to develop its technical capacity. By 1969 new equipment and a 1000-Watts transmitter was bought to replace the old one, which only had 300-Watts. Later, with the support of Adveniat, Misereor and other Roman Catholic organisations, a 5-Kilowatt and additional hardware contributed to considerably extend the coverage over most of the Andean South of Peru. The philosophical evolution of the station could be encapsulated as follows: “At first the station emphasized the ‘religious’ programmes; later on, there was an attempt to provide training and ‘formal education’ to poor farmers; then we saw the need of becoming the ‘voice of the people’ and we put radio programmes under the responsibility of popular organisations and groups working on massive concientisation. Finally we concluded that the most important thing was to become a centre of communication and participation for popular organizations.” (Encinas & Lobo)

Thus, radio programmes evolved over the years as Radio Quillabamba increasingly committed itself to social struggle. Between 1972 and 1975, ‘human and religious education’ dominated programming, while content wise it didn’t relate to formal education programmes neither to popular education concepts. Between 1975 and 1978 ‘formal education’ programmes were produced, aiming to develop the reading habits of the new literates. From 1978 on, the station committed to ‘popular education in support of organised people’. Part of the 16 daily hours of programming was allocated free of charge to social organisations such as the Provincial Peasants Federation, Workers Federation, Municipal Council, Human Rights Committee among other.

The most popular format is the radio-magazine, which includes segments of information (news and interviews), education (analysis), communication (messages), entertainment (participation) and music (dedications). The majority of programmes are transmitted live. The music dedication slot is one of the most successful, since the messages are read in Quechua, the local language.

Over the years, a network of volunteer correspondents naturally built up around the station. Letters arrive from very remote places of the province, informing about events that the national media is not aware of, such as the clashes between the army and the Shining Path guerrilla.

It has been the policy of Radio Quillabamba from its inception, to let the constituency cover the ordinary expenses of the station, while reserving external funding for investing in infrastructure. Employees’ salaries, office rent and services such as telephone or electricity are taken care through commercial advertising, social messages and music dedications.

Commercial advertising is strictly regulated and limited to fixed time slots and days of the week. Institutional messages of social interest are aired with no cost, but individuals sending personal messages to their families have to pay a minimum rate, which allows the station to generate additional funds for ordinary expenses.

Background & Context

La Concepción province, in the Cuzco Department, is one of the most diverse of Peru in terms of its geography, as it extends from 6,300 metres of altitude in The Andes, towards 300 metres in the Amazonian basin. Quillabamba, the capital city, sits in a valley at 1,050 metres high and is inhabited by 20,000 of the 130,000 population of the province, the majority of which are Quechua peasants who live in rural areas producing coffee and coca leaves.

Peasants established since the 50’s their own cooperatives, unions and political organisations, which survived repression from local landowners and various military regimes. During the 80’s the region became an scenario for the violent confrontation between the army and the Shining path guerrilla.

Radio has traditionally been the most important media in rural areas. It often substitutes telephone, mail and other conventional means of communication. The story of popular and community radio in Peru is closely related to the action of progressive Catholic priests who had been, since the sixties, involved in the struggle of the poorest and most forgotten segments of society.

The experience of the Dominican missionaries from the Vicariate of Puerto Maldonado in the operation of Radio Madre de Dios made them aware of the significance of a communication tool that responded to the social needs of the communities surrounding Quillabamba. Thus the decision was made to create a new station.

Quillabamba had already a small private radio station, though of limited reach because of its low power and its lack of clear objectives. However it already had a legal licence and its own frequency to operate. The Dominican priests bought it in 1966 and started developing a new communication experience.

Aspects of social change

Similar to what happened with Radio Pio XII (Bolivia), Radio Huayacocotla (México) and many other Catholic stations, Radio Quillabamba evolved while getting closer to the social reality. During the first years its objectives were merely religious and educational, but after 1978 the station took a clear option “for a popular education and in support of organised people”, which meant a political definition in favour of the poorest and most excluded communities. We can actually measure the social impact of this strategy by the number of sabotages and attacks that the stations suffered during since then.

The power of its transmitters extends the area of influence of Radio Quillabamba over the totality of the Cuzco Department, and also over neighbouring departments in the Andean Southern of Peru.

The station acts as post office, telephone booth and telegraph for most of the peasants in the province, who often visit the radio to pick the letters they have received from other cities. Upon reception, the station normally airs a courtesy message signalling the arrival of each letter.

The most representative local popular organisations prepare and conduct their own radio programmes, often live broadcasts of massive meetings and demonstrations. Though these transmissions may last for five or six hours, they definitely have the support of most listeners.

Media & Methods

Over the years Radio Quillabamba has developed a comprehensive “Doctrinal Framework” which covers the ensemble of its activities. The document recognises the social, cultural, economic and political nature of the region as the baseline for its philosophical option.

Community participation in Radio Quillabamba takes place through the most representative local social organisations. Unions and cooperatives are in charge of radio slots on the local social reality, thus expressing the critical voice of the majority on issues such as social discrimination, injustice and violations of human rights. Each organisations is responsible for preparing an annual work plan including objectives, structure and people in charge of the conduction of the programmes.

The selection of staff for the station is mainly based on criteria of social commitment and identification with the regional needs. All candidates have to be bilingual and show above all a great will of working in harmony with the social organisations of the province. Technical training is provided once the above conditions have been met. In terms of coordinating with others, Radio Quillabamba participates in the effort of strengthening the alternative communication networks, through its presence in various progressive organisations: the National Radio Coordination (CNR), the Campesino Christian Communities (CCC), and ALER in the international level.


Though at the very beginning Radio Quillabamba had a licence to operate, 1971 government provisions compelled the station to start all over again to obtain a new operation licence.

Due to its commitment with the people, Radio Quillabamba has been often the victim of threats and violent attacks. An attack with explosives destroyed the transmitter in June 1975 and forced the station to work for several years in precarious conditions until the new equipment was mounted in May 1986.

The station suffered two other attacks in 1987 and May 1988. A violent intervention incited by the local and national government in January 1989 resulted in the closure of Radio Quillabamba until April of the same year. In December 1989 a heavy rain prevented another explosive to produce more harm. Each of these attacks against freedom of expression interrupted the activities of the station but none was able to silence it or to frighten the people involved in running it. On the contrary, Radio Quillabamba grew and got stronger with the support of the peasantry.


  • Radio Quillabamba y la Educación Popular by P. Alfredo Encinas Martín and P. Rufino Lobo Alonso. Cuadernos de Comunicación Alternativa No. 8, CIMCA (Centro de Integración de Medios de Comunicación Alternativa), Bolivia, 1990.
  • Radio Quillabamba, Peru by Don Moore, The Journal of the North American Shortwave Association, February 1991. Link
  • La Radio: Actor Clave en el Desarrollo Humano by Anouk Hoeberichts and Miguel Lopez, in Sustainable Development Dimensions, FAO (Rome), January 1999. Link.


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